Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Books of 2011


The following is a very eclectic end of the year list. I've covered quite a number of genres - an Austen classic, a non-fiction novel, a thriller, a Man Booker prize winner, a book of interrelated short stories, a modern fantasy novel that's the first in a series, a dystopian novel, a post 9-11 novel, a mystery set in the Tudor area and a Pulitzer prize winner.  Funnily enough in 2009 my top ten consisted of only women authors. This year I see that I have eight  male writers and only two females.

Here's my final list in random order:



In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
This was the last book I finished in 2011. It's simply fascinating. It covers the years spent by the American ambassador and his family in Berlin during the years 1933-1937. If you want to know what it was like to live in this city during these nightmare years then this is the book to read. It's also a book where the saying 'one book leads to another' is so true. You'll want to read more on the years of the Third Reich and see movies about it as well. I finally saw the German film Sophie Scholl the other day because of this book and I'm looking forward to reading journalist William Shirer's memoirs.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
This book for me is a pure work of art. It's beautifully written. A novel about memories, love, loss, loneliness, longing and managing to go on living after the one we love is gone. Heartbreaking and touching.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Rachman's debut novel transported me to a newspaper office in modern day Rome. Each chapter reads like a short story with each one focusing on a particular character. The dialogue is witty and sometimes funny and the scenarios are engaging with some unexpected twists. The book covers a wide array of themes such as life, death, love, ambition, loneliness. It's difficult to say which chapter I liked more because each one was riveting in its own way.




Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
How can I not have this book on the list when I was completely captivated by the TV show and book? It's just magnificent stuff. The book transports readers to a world of magic, romance, adventure, ambition, love, murder, betrayal and revenge. The characters are fantastic and unforgettable. I'm now reading the second book in the series.





Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This was a reread for me. I first read the book in 2005 and I had a lukewarm response to it then. I think it helped that I knew the ending this time so I could just concentrate on the characters and their story. The author in a Time magazine interview, admits that: ” … in a funny sort of way, I almost wanted the mystery aspect to be taken away so that people could concentrate on other aspects of the book.” This proved to be true for me.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
This will never be one of my favorite books however the Man Booker winner of 2011 was beautifully written. Plus it is probably the most discussed novel of the year. My review alone has generated over 8000 hits and over 70 comments.

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
I know many people were not thrilled that this was on the Booker shortlist but it's actually a very good book. On the surface it appears to be just a simple and predictable thriller that involves an expatriate in Moscow but it's not. It has a lot of depth and complexity underneath. It's about a man's moral compass that slowly spirals out of control.





Persuasion by Jane Austen
I had always loved the story of Persuasion but had never read the novel. I finally had to read it for my book club in 2011 and not surprisingly it was a beautifully written book however I did wonder beforehand what we would actually have to talk about. We ended up having a wonderful discussion that covered so many different points not only from the book but about society and women's roles then and now.





A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Pulitzer Prize winner of the year is one of the most innovative novels I've read. It's probably the only one with a whole chapter in Powerpoint. The book is made up of chapters that can stand alone as short stories and the narratives go back and forth in time mainly following the lives of Bennie and Sasha and the people that surround them. Bennie is a record producer and Sasha is his assistant. Viewpoints switch from first to third and even second person. This was a pretty cool book.

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
Another series I got hooked on this year were the Mathew Shardlake mysteries. I read three of them. They are all brilliantly plotted by Sansom who holds a PhD in History. The books are amazingly rich in historical flavor up to the miscroscopic details. Set in London during the Tudor era, Mathew Shardlake is a hunchback attorney who solves mysteries much in the same vein as Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose minus the Latin.




So there it is, the top ten of 2011. Mind you, ten out of only forty-two books read.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Books Read in 2011

There are only forty-two books on this list (not including children's books or short stories unless I read the entire collection). Of course, I had a very good excuse - I had a baby last February. I had hoped to read more but this was all I could manage. I also didn't review every book that came my way. Recently, I've decided to just write about books I care about. I'll be back with my top ten in a few days. For now, here's the list of the books I read in 2011. Can you guess which ones will make my top list?
  1. The City and The City by China Mieville
  2. The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing
  3. The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent 
  4. Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers (reread)
  5. Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers (reread)
  6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  7. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
  8. The Imperfectionists  by Tom Rachman
  9. Dissolution  by C.J. Sansom
  10. Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom
  11. The Great House  by Nicole Krauss
  12. Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa (Book 1)
  13. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  14. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close  by Jonathan Safran Foer
  15. The History of Love  by Nicole Krauss
  16. Sovereign  by C.J.Sansom
  17. The Blue Castle - by L.M. Montgomery
  18. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  19. Book Lust by Nancy Pearl
  20. The Keep by Jennifer Egan
  21. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  22. A Load of Bull by Tim Parfitt
  23. Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
  24. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
  25. Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
  26. The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart
  27. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  28. The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell (reread)
  29. Nocturnes  by Kazuo Ishiguro
  30. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  31. Before Ever After  by Samantha Sotto
  32. Florence and Giles by John Harding
  33. Galadria by Miguel Lopez de Leon
  34. Bossypants by Tina Fey
  35. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  36. The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
  37. East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
  38. IQ84 by Haruki Murakami (Book 1 and 2)
  39. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  40. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
  41. How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely
  42. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    Christmas Greetings


    Merry Christmas!

    Hope you are all getting cozy with your loved ones today. My shopping is done, a cake is in the oven and we're busy preparing for Christmas dinner with the family. I'll be back before the end of the year with my best books of 2011. Happy Holidays!


    *I found the homemade card above at Milliesmarvels.


    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    A Day in Books

    This little meme comes courtesy of Cornflower Books. You have to finish the sentences with books you read this year.

    I began the day with Strong Poison
    On my way to work I saw The Blue Castle
    and walked by The Great House
    to avoid The Heretic's Daughter
    but I made sure to stop at The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
    In the office, my boss said "Never Let Me Go."
    and sent me to research The History of Love
    At lunch with Florence and Giles
    I noticed Snowdrops
    under The Big Clock
    then went back to my desk In the Garden of Beasts
    Later, on the journey home, I bought Dark Fire
    because I have A Visit from the Goon Squad
    then settling down for the evening, I picked up A Clash of Kings
    and studied Nocturnes
    before saying goodnight to Bossypants

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    2011: End Of The Year Book Survey



    I came across this meme at Literary Musings. Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner has created an end of 2011 survey to reflect on this year's best and worst reads.

    1. Best Book You Read In 2011?
    • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This was a reread for me. I first read the book in 2005 and I had a lukewarm response to it then. I think it helped that I knew the ending this time so I could just concentrate on the characters and their story. The author in a Time magazine interview, admits that: ” … in a funny sort of way, I almost wanted the mystery aspect to be taken away so that people could concentrate on other aspects of the book.” This proved to be true for me.


      2. Most Disappointing Book?
      • Hands down it's 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I usually love reading Murakami and in fact I've listed two of his novels in My Reader's Table however I read Book 1 and Book 2 of this and I'm so disappointed that I refuse to read Book 3. It started off well but then went off on several bizarre tangents. This was just too weird for me. I can suspend disbelief quite easily but little people coming out of goats just takes the cake! 

        3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?
        • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. I bought this for my son's 6th birthday and we enjoyed reading it together. It has beautiful drawings and is actually a homage to Georges Melies one of the forefathers of the movies. We can't wait to see the film directed by Martin Scorsese. The trailer looks incredible!

          4. Book you recommended to people most in 2011?
          • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I loved this for its sheer beauty. This is a book about memories, love, loss, loneliness, longing and managing to go on living after the one we love is gone. Heartbreaking and touching. 

            5. Best series you discovered in 2011?
            • Besides The Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin (more on this below), its got to be the Mathew Shardlake mysteries by C.J. Sansom. I read the first three books this year. Mathew Shardlake is a hunchback solicitor during the Tudor era who solves mysteries much in the same vein as Umberto Eco's The Name of The Rose minus the Latin. The books are in chronological order so it's best if you read them starting with the first book Dissolution and move on from there. 

            6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2011?
            •  Tom Rachman. I truly enjoyed reading his witty and also tragic novel, The Imperfectionists.
            • China Meiville. I've only read The City and the City but I intend to try some of his other books in the future.
            • George R.R. Martin. Reading and watching The Game of Thrones was so much fun.

            7. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?
            • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller. I know many people were not thrilled that this was on the Booker shortlist but it's actually a very good book. On the surface it appears to be just a simple and predictable thriller but it's not. It has a lot of depth and complexity underneath. It's about a man's moral compass that slowly spirals out of control. 

            8. Book you most anticipated in 2011?
            • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami much to my disappointment (see above). I'm also looking forward to reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  

            9. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011?


            • The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. I picked up this book because of the beautiful cover and it turned out to be quite a riveting and clever book. 

            10. Most memorable character in 2011?
            • Too many to name but here are a few - Oskar from Extremely Loud, Arya from The Game of Thrones, Tommy from Never Let Me Go.

            11. Most beautifully written book read in 2011?
            • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 
            12. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011?
            • In the Garden of Beasts by the master of the non-fiction narrative, Erik Larson. I'm reading this right now and so far I've learned so much about what really happened in Berlin from 1933-1938. 

            13. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to finally read?
            • Persuasion by Jane Austen. I had to read it for my book club and not surprisingly it was a beautiful read however I did wonder beforehand what we would actually have to talk about. We ended up having a wonderful discussion that covered so many different points not only from the book but about society and women's roles then and now.

            14. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2011?
            • There wasn't a quote or passage that really stood out for me this year so I'm going to choose - "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." from The Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin just because I loved the series and the first book and now I've started reading Book 2, The Clash of Kings and so far so good. 

            15. Book That You Read In 2011 That Would Be Most Likely To Reread In 2012?
            • Probably one of my best comfort reads, the Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane mysteries by Dorothy Sayers beginning with Strong Poison

            16. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
            • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. After reading this, I was dying to talk to someone about it so I posted my review here.I guess a lot of readers felt the same way because since then (August 31st) this post has generated over 6000 hits and over 70 comments. Amazing I know! 
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